Yesterday, I finished watching Professor Christine Hayes’ lectures for her Introduction to the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) class at Yale University. Yale offers her lectures online, and you can also find them on Youtube. Next, I will watch Yale Professor Dale Martin’s lectures for his “Introduction to the New Testament History and Literature” class.
I decided to do this because I am applying for some online adjunct teaching jobs in religion, and I was wondering how exactly I would go about teaching an intro to Hebrew Bible or intro to New Testament class. I’m at the point where I have read so many different perspectives, and I continue to read so many different perspectives. It’s easy, once that happens, to get lost in the trees and to miss the forest (if there even is a forest). What exactly would I want my students to learn about the Hebrew Bible or New Testament? And can I even open my mouth and speak a proposition, when I am aware of scholars who would disagree with that proposition?
I’ve taken or audited intro classes in the past. Each teacher has his or her own focus. But I have noticed some commonalities. In intro to Hebrew Bible classes, you usually have a section on the Pentateuch, a section on the historical writings, a section on the wisdom writings, a section on Psalms, a section on the prophets, and a section on apocalyptic literature. In the New Testament, you have a section on the Gospels, a section on Paul, a section on deutero-Pauline writings (if you believe Paul didn’t write certain letters), and a section on Revelation (maybe also one on James, Jude, and I-II Peter). These sections can take several days—-for example, there is a lot to cover about the Pentateuch: creation stories, source criticism, whether the Exodus and Conquest happened, the purity laws, the Deuteronomist, etc. And, of course, one would need an introductory section to set the stage for the rest of the course.
I thought Christine Hayes did a good job in presenting the highlights of issues in Hebrew Bible scholarship, while informing students that there are scholars out there who disagree. Her presentation was good on the introductory level, and yet it was quite meaty.
There was something in particular that Christine Hayes said that stood out to me, though. In one lecture, she said that, in Genesis, God gets tired of dealing with all of humanity and decides to work with one group, Israel. That happens when God chooses Abraham. That stood out to me because I had just read T. Desmond Alexander’s From Paradise to the Promised Land, which is an evangelical work about the Pentateuch, and Alexander stresses that God intended to bless the nations through Abraham’s seed, the Messiah. Christians emphasize the part of God’s promise to Abraham that said that Abraham’s seed would bring blessings to the nations because that coincides with aspects of their belief system—-that God loves the Gentiles, too. I have wondered, though, if they place more emphasis on this theme of Abraham blessing the nations than Genesis or the Hebrew Bible itself does, and if they are actually interpreting that theme differently from how it was originally intended to be understood. Throughout the Hebrew Bible, there is a salient theme of God blessing the nations, but God also has a close, special relationship with Israel. I think that one can legitimately question whether God in the Hebrew Bible chooses Israel as a means to the end—-to restore creation, or to bring the nations to God—-even though that is part of the plan.